This seems like a no-brainer, but it might need to be said: When the government collects money from tariffs, that money does not immediately translate into economic stimulus. There is no policy that, say, directly pipes cash into a highway fund from customs, or to taxpayers from a refund check. We are not just snatching money from China and blowing it on tank tops for everyone at American Apparel.
Most economists argue the opposite — that tariffs reduce economic activity by raising prices for consumers. That reduction thus far from the China tariffs is most likely small, but it is, in those calculations, almost certainly a reduction and not a rise.
Despite Mr. Trump’s proclamations, “China” is not paying the cost of the tariffs. Businesses and consumers — mostly American — are like the owner and customers of your friendly neighborhood lighting showroom. Also, tariffs have not had a huge effect on prices yet, not because China is bearing them, but because, thus far, the additional taxes Mr. Trump has imposed on Chinese imports have not been large enough to budge the inflation rate more than a tenth of a percentage point.